Hello and Happy New Year,
As we leave behind a strange year and move into the New Year, never have we had so much to wish for! The pandemic has affected us all in so many ways, but never could we have imagined that cruising would be largely suspended globally for an entire year and clearly that will now happen. I am certainly wishing for a quick return to normality, to see our clients travelling again and to see my great team back working together in our Call Centre.
Against the background of a spike in Covid cases after Christmas, we have the news that the Oxford vaccine has finally been approved and the vaccination program has commenced as I write. This is clearly the news our industry needed, and the big question now is how quickly can enough people be vaccinated to allow my wishes to come true. I am sure we still have a bumpy ride ahead, as a program of this nature is clearly a logistical nightmare, and it will be interesting to see how this unfolds over the coming weeks. I had always expected that the first UK cruises would sail in spring, but sadly and more realistically I believe we are now looking more towards summer. David Dingle, Chairman of Carnival UK, said over the Christmas period that he forecast sailings would resume
“sometime between April and June”. Speaking at a Travel Weekly Insight launch event, Dingle said: “We’ve agreed a phased restart, so the early cruises operate only in EU waters close to home. We have a plan to prove the concept before we start taking ships beyond this country. Remember, it takes between eight and twelve weeks to get a ship recommissioned and ready to start, to bring crews back, get crews trained in the new protocols. We would like to think the first phase of the restart, purely in UK waters, calling at UK ports, may be a month”. With P&O Cruises such an important partner to our business, you can be sure we will keep you up to date as their plans unfold over the coming months.
I mentioned in my last update that I had brought our remaining sales staff who were on furlough back into the Call Centre two days a week to form an outbound sales team. They have been undertaking callouts to clients whose sailings were cancelled this year and I am delighted that they have successfully reached out to over four thousand clients so far. Having personally listened to a number of calls in progress, what is evident is the warm welcome they receive and how pleased customers were to hear from us. This process is important to me, as I have always been disappointed that we were unable to speak to everyone personally when their cruises were first cancelled due to the huge numbers involved. Over the coming months they will continue this great work, as we endeavour to reach out to the tens of thousands of clients affected.
On the subject of my amazing staff, it would be remiss of me not to mention their achievements in winning some of the most coveted awards of 2020. Beginning in February, before the madness of Coronavirus was upon us, we once again picked up the top award for P&O Cruises, making that our 33rd consecutive year as the top UK agent! Whilst some of the usual awards were suspended this year, the British Travel Awards continued as a virtual event, with Bolsover Cruise Club being awarded not one, but three major awards including Best Cruise Holiday Retailer, plus second place in the Best Online Travel Agency and Best High Street Travel Agency categories, all voted for by you the public. Thank you for your votes and thanks again to my team for their sterling efforts in what has clearly been our most challenging year ever.
In other news, and while not cruise related, having Brexit finally sorted is a great weight off the country’s shoulders. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, we can finally move on. From a holiday/cruise perspective, Brexit should have little or no impact; even reciprocal health cover seems to have been agreed. That said, it remains essential to always have top quality travel insurance in place whenever you venture outside the United Kingdom.
There remains so much to look forward to as we look ahead to 2021. Holidays are back on the horizon and the arrival of new ships, including several delayed during 2020, brings a flurry of new options for cruisers. We can also expect to see the latest P&O Cruises super liner go on sale, remarkably before Iona takes her maiden sailing! Who would have thought that? I do expect this to be a very strong launch, as interest in 2022 bookings and beyond is actually very healthy indeed. There is clearly lots of pent up demand and in fact, once resumption occurs, I do forecast availability issues with so many ships retiring and a staged return to normality planned.
I would like to close by wishing all our customers a healthy and happy New Year. The next couple of months could be our most challenging yet, so please stay safe and I look forward to a brighter future together.